Remember in the film Donnie Darko, when his English teacher (played by Drew Barrymore) says that "cellar door" is the most beautiful combination of words in the English language? I had an English lecturer who swore it was actually Auden's phrase from his poem "The Fall of Rome", "altogether elsewhere" that was the most beautiful. Well today I discovered that the name for this lovely literary investigation is called "phonaesthetics". The beauty of the words or phrases in question doesn't rely on there actual meaning, but rather the sounds of the words. Therefore, even to a non-English speaker, these words should sound beautiful. 

    According to wiki, the cellar door idea is attributed to Tolkien, and cellar door has its own Wikipedia entry. Research has of course been conducted into phonaesthetics, surveys have also been carried out to generate lists of words that people think are beautiful or elegant. Here are a few from Dr Beard's top one hundred:

    Diffuse – disperse, spread, disseminate
    Effervescent – fizzy, sparkling, bubbling; lively, vibrant, vivacious
    Ephemeral – short-lived, transient, fleeting
    Epiphany – sudden perception or intuitive grasp of meaning or essence; illuminated discovery or realization
    Evanescent – vanishing like vapour
    Gossamer – delicate, sheer, flimsy, filmy, transparent, diaphanous, gauzy
    Halcyon – calm, peaceful, untroubled, quiet, still, heavenly
    Languor – laziness, indolence, slowness, dreaminess, lethargy
    Lassitude – tiredness, exhaustion, inertia, apathy
    Lilt – cadence, inflection
    Luxuriate – enjoy, savour, relish, delight in
    Nebulous – vague, hazy, imprecise, ill-defined
    Panacea – cure-all, universal remedy, magic potion
    Penumbra – partial shade or shadow, obscurity, uncertainty
    Plethora – overabundant, surfeit, excess, glut
    Scintillate – to be brilliant, animated; to sparkle
    Serendipity – chance, destiny, fate, luck, providence, fortune
    Susurrus – rustling or whispering sound
    Symbiosis – cooperative relationship between dissimilar entities

     Got a favourite beautiful sounding word or two? I like Ithaca and epistemological.  

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